If you’re shopping a late-model used car, a new study might nudge you toward Toyota or GM. Both automakers dominated J.D. Power and Associates’ influential 2015 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, released today. Toyota’s Lexus luxury division topped the VDS’ 31-brand dependability rankings, while the Toyota brand itself ranked third. GM was close behind, with its Buick and Cadillac divisions ranking second and fourth, respectively. The automakers’ remaining brands — Scion, GMC and Chevrolet — were well above average.
Shoppers should pay attention to the VDS, which this year surveyed more than 34,000 owners of 2012 model-year cars in late 2014 to gauge how many problems they experienced in the first three years of ownership. Don’t confuse it with the firm’s Initial Quality Study, which measures problems in the first 90 days.
Jeep and Fiat were recent losers in both studies, but most Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brands fared poorly in the VDS. Fiat, Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler accounted for four of the bottom nine brands; FCA’s Ram truck division was the sole bright spot, landing above average.
Lexus remains the highest-ranked VDS brand for its fourth consecutive year. The brand’s 89 problems per 100 cars were the lowest of all brands by a significant margin. By contrast, Land Rover and Fiat both had more than 250 problems per 100 cars — the industry average was 147 problems per 100 cars.
The 2015 VDS analyzed 177 specific problems across eight categories. Here are the full rankings:
J.D. Power 2015 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study
- Lexus: 89 problems per 100 vehicles
- Buick: 110
- Toyota: 111
- Cadillac: 114
- Honda: 116
- Porsche 116
- Lincoln: 118
- Mercedes-Benz: 119
- Scion: 121
- Chevrolet: 123
- GMC: 123
- Acura: 124
- Nissan: 128
- Ram: 134
- Audi: 138
- Mazda: 140
- Mitsubishi: 140
- Infiniti: 144
- BMW: 146
- Industry average: 147
- Subaru: 157
- Kia: 158
- Volkswagen: 165
- Chrysler: 173
- Volvo: 174
- Ford: 188
- Hyundai: 188
- Dodge: 192
- Mini: 193
- Jeep: 197
- Land Rover: 258
- Fiat: 273
Note that Jaguar is unranked due to a small sample size. J.D. Power tweaked this year’s surveys, so the numerical results (e.g., Lexus’ 89 problems per 100 cars) can’t be directly compared to last year’s numbers, but the rankings and awardees can.
Small Cars: 2012 Scion xD
Compact Cars: 2012 Toyota Corolla
Multi-Purpose Vehicles: 2012 Scion xB
Midsize Cars: 2012 Chevrolet Malibu
Large Cars: 2012 Buick LaCrosse
Compact Sporty Cars: 2012 Scion tC
Midsize Sporty Cars: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro
Compact SUVs: 2012 GMC Terrain
Midsize SUVs: 2012 Nissan Murano
Large SUVs: 2012 GMC Yukon
Small SUVs: 2012 Kia Sportage
Minivans: 2012 Toyota Sienna
Midsize Pickups: 2012 Honda Ridgeline
Large Light-Duty Pickups: 2012 GMC Sierra
Large Heavy-Duty Pickups: 2012 Chevrolet Silverado HD
Compact Premium Cars: 2012 Lexus ES
Midsize Premium Cars: 2012 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Compact Premium SUVs: 2012 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
Midsize Premium SUVs: 2012 Lexus GX
J.D. Power notes that consumers increasingly report “design-related” problems they simply don’t like — an unintuitive multimedia system, for example — rather than things that objectively break. This trend was observed in last year’s study and is a long-standing criticism of the IQS. But J.D. Power says consumers still see a design defect as a problem.
“If a light bulb goes out in the car, I go to the dealer and 10 minutes later it gets fixed,” Dave Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power, told Cars.com. But if your car’s voice recognition consistently garbles commands, it can’t be fixed.
“I have my car the first few days [and] I can’t really figure out the voice recognition properly,” Sargent said. “Three years later, I’m still struggling with it. It still misinterprets my commands, or I’ve just given up on it and stopped using it. The system hasn’t really changed from day one … [but] that’s going to be a source of great frustration to consumers.”
Poor voice recognition and faulty Bluetooth pairing remain stubborn reliability issues, in fact. But catastrophic problems are largely past us, as “vehicles don’t break anymore, for the most part,” Sargent said.
That’s led to the prevalence of reported dislikes. Problems went beyond in-car tech; consumers still reported many engine and transmission problems, with nearly 30 percent relating to rough or hesitant shifting from the automatic transmission. The largest category of reported problems still involve the exterior — issues like excessive wind noise, squeaks and rattles, paint fade and more, Sargent said.